Hacktop Mk II

While attempting to consolidate and potentially dispose of some unwanted hardware, I went through some old laptops and found one that might actually be interesting. You see, up until rather recently, I was only interested in laptops that could be gamed on, so several of these units had been overlooked. However, about a year ago I started dabbling in pentesting my home lab, and doing so from a VM wasn’t working so I grabbed the first spare laptop I found - a Compaq C700 that came from my sister. Threw Kali on it, swapped out the wireless card for an Intel one that supported monitor mode and was very happy.

That laptop is a lumbering beast, it’s heavy, but it worked. Then I found this one, an Acer Aspire S3-951. It’s light, it had Windows 10 on it, and it sucked. We tried to put Minecraft on it for when Duncan had friends over, and it didn’t work. We tried to play media over HDMI to our TV, media that our PS4 refused, and it didn’t work very well. In fact, there wasn’t really anything this poor little thing did well - but it’s very light!

But when I pulled it out the other day, I took a harder look at it. That i3 isn’t really awful, particularly compared to the T2330 Celeron that’s in the Compaq, but more importantly it has an SSD for super-fast resumes, but that can be used for general purpose (though the BIOS will flatly refuse to ever boot from it).

So I decided to try FreeBSD 11.1 out on it, and it was rather a pain. I wanted it to work, coming back multiple times and figuring out why the mouse wouldn’t work, and so on. No matter what I did, S3 suspend (low-power) wouldn’t recover at all, let alone S4 (suspend to disk), even after multiple sysctl tweaks, and I couldn’t find any missing drivers that were supposed to make it happen. The final straw (because it’s unlikely I’d be working on anything important on it, so I could just wire S5 - power off - to the lid state to convserve battery) was that despite the fact it looks like monitor mode (AHDEMO) should work, I could never catch a handshake on my wireless network. I didn’t care enough at this point to work out where the problem is.

I caved and decided to give Linux Mint a go. It worked first try, but I couldn’t get it to suspend from the SSD. I configured a second swap device in fstab, grub, etc and it still wouldn’t resume satistfactorily, so in the end I simply reinstalled, using a 5GB swap partition on the SSD only (I think I’ll set swappiness to zero to try avoid torching the SSD as I’d imagine it’s pretty old tech) and just using the rest of it for a primary Linux partition.

The overall result is pretty good. It’s not Intel’s “Rapid Startup Technology” (iRST being the shittiest acronym ever, because they reused it for “Rapid Storage Tech” meaning that searching for the fast-suspend-to-SSD thing is absolutely fruitless) fast, and there’s things like a minor delay in grub before it starts the resume process, but it’s quick enough that I can just close the lid whenever I want, it’ll hibernate immediately, and I’ll still have battery left.

Best of all, I configured things like aircrack-ng and it worked first try. If I get more time one day I might try dive into why suspend doesn’t work on it under FreeBSD, but that will be a ton of learning to get anywhere close to progress. :/

Horsham, VIC, Australia fwaggle



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Horsham, VIC, Australia

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